Mujaddarah, perhaps more than any other dish, crosses borders and boundaries, with recipes galore from Syria and Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. The first recorded recipe dates back to a cookery book from Iraq called Kitab al-Tabikh in 1226 by the medieval writer al-Baghdadi.My recipe has been adapted from a book that originally belonged to my mother called Complete Arab Cookery by Armenian architect, restaurateur, cookery book writer and painter Arto der Haroutunian. I always like to use the best quality ingredients that I can afford and that is particularly important in a dish like this which is basically just rice, lentils, onion and oil. Therefore it’s essential, in my opinion, to use a good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil – not a super expensive one as you need quite a lot of it, but absolutely not any kind of refined oil. Pure, EVOO from a supermarket is fine – so I’m talking £3-5 a bottle rather than £15-20.
When I first made this dish, over 20 years ago now, I remember being horrified by the amount of oil needed – nearly a third of a pint seemed an outrageous amount – but trust me, use a good oil and the dish will be sublime.
- 175g brown lentils, washed thoroughly and drained
- 900 mls cold water
- 200 mls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 large onions, halved lengthwise, peeled and very thinly sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 300 mls boiling water
- 175g rice (I use Basmati), well washed
- Put the lentils into a large saucepan (all the remaining ingredients eventually end up in this pan so bear that in mind), cover with the cold water and bring to the boil.
- Skim the surface of any scum, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes until the lentils are almost cooked and most of the water has evaporated.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and very gently cook the sliced onion until they are a beautiful dark golden brown. Stir frequently to make sure they don’t burn and don’t be tempted to hurry them.
- Reserve half the oil and onions and add the other half to the nearly cooked lentils.
- Add the boiling water, salt and pepper to the lentils and then stir in the rice.
- Return to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils and rice are tender and the water has been absorbed.
- Remove from the heat and leave to stand, covered for 10-15 minutes.
- Pile the mujaddarah onto a serving plate garnished with the remaining onions and oil. Fresh herbs such as parsley, mint or coriander can also be sprinkled over the dish.
This is delicious served with pickles such as red cabbage, olives, a tomato salad or a bowl of thick Greek style yogurt. It makes a fantastic main course Vegetarian dish or as a side for chicken or meat and can be served hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4-6 depending on hunger/greed!